Daily Mirror Investigations

Click here for a downloadable version of this document











JUNE 29, 2011


We’ve already had a few run-ins with Paul O’Reilly, boss of what claims be Europe’s largest privately owned business sales agency, and now things have turned ­particularly nasty.


O’Reilly wrote to one unhappy customer who’d seen our stories to tell him: “What you are unaware of is that the Daily Mirror printed downright lies which were proven by us and the Press Complaints ­Commission made them print a retraction.”


The PCC did no such thing – it did ask for a clarification of one possible ambiguity of a previous piece of ours which we did.


We’re not surprised to hear O’Reilly making such a claim, judging by the way his firm RTA (Business Consultants) Limited treats his clients. The latest batch of complaints we’ve received includes one from Peter Bracewell, who put his Glasgow pottery firm on the market through RTA.


After three months and no enquiries he asked for the contract to be torn up – and was presented with a demand for £47,360, then a summons.


The case was thrown out when RTA didn’t turn up in court.


David Darling, who owns a printers in Bournemouth, says he got a £6,000 bill “as their fee for not being able to sell the business”.


“Seething” Clare Brookes, of Beetledrive, a specialist wedding firm that rents white VW Beetles, told us she’s had a demand for £10,800, but: “You would not find us on their website even if you were looking for what we do as a business.”


John Griffiths put his fitness firm in Basildon, Essex, on the market with RTA two years ago.  “I heard nothing for the entire time and when I told them I had sold it via another contact they demanded £5,000 commission.”


In Brighton, Jessica Rosenthal asked RTA to sell her bridal shop, but the business closed, unsold, in 2008.  She heard no more until getting a £600 bill this year, plus a letter insisting: “We have ­undertaken our best efforts for you”.


Then there’s the Bolton butcher’s shop with an annual income of about £30,000 that RTA valued at £450,000 so, funnily enough, it hasn’t sold.


O’Reilly says that every issue put through their complaints procedure is “satisfactorily resolved”.


“Unfortunately some people choose not to follow the procedure or attempt any form of resolution.


“Sadly many do not do so because they are empowered by what they read in the press and more specifically on the Daily Mirror’s blog.


“If your blogs are empowering people to renege on legitimate contracts then this is wrong and you are inadvertently doing more harm than good.”


When we met RTA manager Ceri Edwards he made an extraordinary admission about those “legitimate” contracts, describing them as “draconian” and “heavily weighted in RTA’s favour”.


Something you can show the court if RTA sue for what you consider to be unfair fees. A judge may read it with interest.








Surf shop owner Steve Clarke paid estate agents £750 to sell his business and was asked for another £500 to cancel when they failed to do do.


Steve put his Cornwall shop up for sale with RTA (Business Consultants) Ltd, of Stockport, but said: “Only once in 12 months did they send a possible buyer to us.”


It was only when we contacted RTA that director Paul O’Reilly claimed the matter of £500 had been written off.






SEPTEMBER 20, 2007


NO one likes a bill out of the blue, so you can picture how Peter and Sandra Hoyland felt to get a demand for £22,000 from a firm they hadn’t dealt with for more than four years.


In 2002 they paid business estate agent RTA (Business Consultants) Ltd £750 to put their tea shop in Peterborough on the market.


But they received no offers and in March 2003 cancelled the contract by phone and, the Hoylands say, in writing.
They heard nothing more until this May when RTA sent a demand for £19,000, plus VAT.


The firm, based in Stockport, Greater Manchester, insists it never got the cancellation letter from the Hoylands and so continued to market their shop.


The couple, who sold privately in 2004, say they had no idea RTA was still representing them as it had not contacted them in the intervening years.


“If they believe they are representing a vendor do they never make contact with their client to discuss progress?” asked Mr Hoyland.


Faced with the prospect of being sued the couple have now paid £10,000, plus VAT, to settle out of court.


RTA director Paul O’Reilly told us the firm did “what we were instructed to do”, adding that the settlement figure was “extremely generous”.


He admits receiving a phone call in March 2003 from the Hoylands stating their intention to cancel the agreement, but says that RTA never got this in writing.


Of course, the Hoylands would have known that RTA was still (unsuccessfully) marketing their shop if it had kept in touch.


So we asked RTA what contact it had with the couple between the Hoylands’ phone call cancelling the contract in 2003 and its bill this May.


Mr O’Reilly told us he had nothing to add to his earlier statement.







JANUARY 8, 2009


In police parlance, an RTA is a road traffic accident. Which seems apt, because a firm named RTA (Business Consultants) Limited is a car crash of a business.


It claims to be the most successful privately-owned business estate agency – not just in Britain, but in Europe.


Among those who’d disagree is Paul Hill, who paid RTA £587 to sell his cafe-bar in Falmouth, Cornwall.


Within days of signing the deal, Paul had second thoughts but was told that the contract was “final and irreversible” unless he paid a £1,000 cancellation fee.


So he stuck with RTA for a year.


As the anniversary of the contract approached he rang again to say he wanted out.


But because he didn’t cancel by recorded delivery letter, RTA sued when he put his cafe on the market with a different firm.


RTA won because Paul relied on consumer protection laws that don’t cover businesses, not even small ones like his.


He was ordered to pay £4,406 plus £225 interest. That’s approaching five grand pocketed by RTA for failing to sell his cafe.


RTA also failed to find a buyer for the shop being sold by Paul Stock and Nikki Vale in Woking, Surrey, who also paid a £587 fee.  The couple said they only had three viewings in a year and decided to close the shop rather than sell it. At which point RTA demanded another £500 plus VAT.

When the couple refused, RTA upped its demand to £3,000 and issued proceedings for another court action. This time it pulled out at the last minute.  “They gave no reason why the case has been cancelled,” Paul Stock told us.


Another furious customer is Suzan Arnavut, whose family dry cleaners went on the market with RTA back in 2005 after a visit from one of its sales reps.  “After this visit we did not hear from RTA in three years and one month,” said Suzan.  “Then we got a phone call from them asking if we still have the business, and we said we’d sold it.  “Not long after this we received a payment request for £3,625.”


Tim Cuffling used RTA to try to sell his B&B in Bourne, Lincs.  “In that year we received no feedback, no prospective buyers and they even called us twice to ask if we were interested in selling our business,” he said.  “Unbelievably, they are now demanding £500 plus VAT to terminate our agreement.”


Paramjit Kooner has had just three viewings for his off-licence in Birmingham since 2004, yet RTA is now demanding £11,900 because Paramjit has ended the contract.


The last time we visited RTA’s offices in Stockport there were no directors available to speak to us.

So this time we tried 57-year-old Nigel Davidson (below) at his home, where he took our dossier and promised to get back to us.


Then we heard from co-director Paul O’Reilly, 48, who said going to their homes was “wholly unacceptable” – even though that’s where the directors were during office hours on a weekday.


Now no one from the company will deal with the Daily Mirror.


We didn’t hear from them for three years, then we got a bill for £3,625


UPDATE: We’ve been asked to point out that Paul Hill lost his case because he did not provide the necessary evidence to prove that he was a consumer.  Other RTA clients have done so, and won their cases against RTA using consumer protection laws.  Happy to make this clear.








MARCH 26, 2009


Underhand, wrong, unfair.


That’s us, according to Paul O’Reilly, director of business transfer agents RTA (Business Consultants) Ltd, who slated us in a letter to one of his unhappy clients.


Valda Thorn put her pub on the market with RTA, paying £3,500 in late 2007 after being told it would sell in six months.


But no buyers have viewed the Rose & Crown in Tiptree, Essex, so she asked for a refund and cited a piece we wrote in January about Bolton-based RTA.


O’Reilly replied: “There will be no refund of any monies paid by you.”
And he wrote about our earlier coverage: “We are talking here about a ‘newspaper’ which necessitates having half-naked women on page 3 to effect sales” – which shows how much he knows about the Mirror.


O’Reilly also told Valda that RTA had taken us to the Press Complaints Commission, complaining of harassment and invasion of privacy, and was looking forward to “when we prove that the Daily Mirror has been wrong”.


Might be a while yet, because the PCC has rejected RTA’s complaint about us.


And we’ve tested O’Reilly’s high opinion of his company by calling at random 10 firms for sale on the RTA website.


Hill & Dale outdoor clothing, Halifax
Time with RTA: Two years three months.
Number of viewings by potential buyers: Two.
Owner Andrew Brennand says: “Wish I’d never bothered. I want my £785 back.”


Bridesmaids and Butterflies, Manchester
Time with RTA: Five months.
Viewings: None.
Johanna Browne: “I paid around £500. It’s hard to tell if it’s them or if there’s just no one who’s interested.”


Lizard Engineering, Helston, Cornwall
Time with RTA: Six months.
Viewings: None.
Nigel Pryor: “They came here, took more than a grand off me and I’ve heard nothing more.”

Cross Keys pub, Pocklington, York
Time with RTA: Nine months.
Viewings: None.

Steve Vaughan: “I paid around £800. Just after I wrote to cancel the contract they said they had four interested buyers but none turned up.”

Poachers Pets & Aquatics, Warrington, Cheshire
Time with RTA: 19 months.
Viewings: None.

Sandra Ormsom: “I can’t remember the fee but when I tried to take the business off the market they threatened to charge me £500, so I’ve just left it with them.”

T Miles bookseller, London
Time with RTA: Two years.
Viewings: Six.

Brian Cross: “I paid £600 plus VAT. None of the viewings resulted in any offers.”

Executive Choice Windows, Crewe
Time with RTA: Six months.
Viewings: None.

Adrian Jardine: “They didn’t even say in ads that three years of the lease are already paid. I feel like I’ve paid around £900 for rubbish.”

Capital Kitchens & Bathrooms, Grantham, Lincs
Time with RTA: One year.
Viewings: None.

Bob Duncan: “The contract ended six months ago so I don’t know why they’re still listing us. I paid £400 plus VAT.”

Blackpool Ladder Centre
Time with RTA: One year.
Viewings: None.

Steve Turner: “I’m very angry, I hear nothing from them.”

Bown Roofing, Birmingham
Time with RTA: Eight to 10 years.
Viewings: None.
Colin Bown: “I’ve given up on the £1,500 or so I paid. Once they called to say a buyer was interested, but didn’t even book an appointment.”






APRIL 15, 2009


Fancy £26,450 for not doing anything useful? That seems to be what commercial estate agents RTA Business Consultants want.


We’ve written before about this lot taking fees from people wanting to sell their businesses, and who then get no offers.


But we’ve not come across anything like this.


Ken Bryan paid around £800 to put his Devon glazing firm The Glass Factory on the market in 2004 after RTA valued it at the hopelessly high £649,000.


“It was the biggest mistake of my life,” said Ken. After no buyers surfaced, he called to end the contract and six months later sold for £150,000 to a friend.


RTA recently discovered that the sale had taken place and wants a £26,000 commission.


“No contact for five years and then I get this invoice,” Ken said.


With legal costs and interest, RTA says Ken faces a bill “well in excess of £50,000” if it goes to court.


We’ve fallen out with RTA directors Paul O’Reilly and Nigel Davidson, who won’t talk to us.


So, to be fair, here’s how O’Reilly justifies the demand in a letter to Ken: “This agreement was to remain in force until revoked in writing… at no time whatsoever have you sought to withdraw our instructions.”


So RTA says it deserves a five-figure payment because Ken apparently didn’t follow its cancellation procedure. It doesn’t try to claim it did anything worthwhile to sell his factory.


Nice work if you can get it.






DECEMBER 16, 2009


Our old mate Paul O’Reilly wasn’t pleased to hear from us.


“You will obviously be aware that I have always found your tactics distasteful and you do nothing more than emphasise this view with your latest approach,” said the boss of RTA (Business Consultants) Ltd.


His outfit claims to help people sell their businesses.


But lots of their clients tell us that RTA over-values businesses, takes an upfront fee, then fails to find a buyer – not surprisingly if the business was over-priced.


Then it demands a hefty penalty payment when the owner wants to escape from the contract.


Victims told us they were verbally assured that they’d be no withdrawal penalty, only to be sued by Stockport-based RTA if they don’t pay one.


We put this to the test, going undercover to record a RTA sales pitch – presumably this is what O’Reilly calls our distasteful tactics.


Before hearing what rep Andy Dearing said, you need to know that the contract he brandished stated that RTA had selling rights for “an irrevocable 12 month period” and that if you wanted to get out of the contract before then you’d have to pay the commission that RTA would have got had they sold the business.


What Andy Dearing said was very different.


Penman, posing as a friend of a businessman who wanted to sell his Post Office, asked: “What’s the

deal on pulling out if there’s no sale?”


Dearing: “With other companies you’ll have a withdrawal fee. With us you don’t have that at all.”

Penman: “If there are no takers, it’s all right to take it off the market with you and go with someone else, there’s no penalty for that?”

Dearing could not have been more clear: “No, no, no.”

Me: “So the owner could put it on the market with someone else and you don’t chase for your commission?”

Dearing: “Yes.”

Me: “So you can cancel in that 12 months without penalty?”

Dearing: “Yes, yes, yes.”


That’s not the experience of Bashar Kadah who put his furniture shop on the market with RTA. Just one hour after signing the contract and talking it through with his wife he rang to cancel.


RTA refused and said it would sue him for its full commission – £20,000. In the event it successfully sued for £5,000.


“I’m refusing to pay because they did nothing useful,” he told us.


“They valued my shop at about £500,000 when it’s worth nearer £300,000 and so I haven’t had any offers, not even any viewings.”


We forwarded the sales pitch given by Andy Dearing to RTA director O’Reilly, who insisted that as their terms were “wholly negotiable” then what the sales rep said was accurate. “He offered a contract that had no withdrawal fee to pay nor did it have any penalty for an early withdrawal despite it technically being for an irrevocable 12 monthly period.”


The crucial word here is “technically”. If you sign a contract with RTA then you are “technically” bound by that contract, not by whatever the sales rep says.


That means they can sue you if you try to get out of it on the perfectly reasonable grounds that they haven’t found any buyers.


And they do sue. Just ask Bashar Kadah.